Henry Rochkind: My Teen Israel Experience

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Henry Rochkind and friends in the Old City.

Henry Rochkind, son of Leslie and William Rochkind, is a junior at Lausanne Collegiate School. Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund provided him with a Teen Israel Experience grant to help offset the cost of his BBYO Israel trip last summer. All rising high school juniors and seniors in the Memphis Jewish community are eligible for grants up to $3,000 to attend a recognized teen summer or semester program in Israel. Applications for Summer 2023 are now available online. Click here to learn more and apply.

By Henry Rochkind

Ever since I was eight years old, I have spent my summers in Maine at an all-boys camp. Not surprisingly, out of the 215 or so attendees, 200 are from the East Coast, 14 come from California, which leaves me, the lone kid from Memphis, Tennessee. I always took this position with pride however, as my friends learned to embrace me with equal parts awe and curiosity. This year, as I embarked alone on my BBYO trip to Israel, the experience was no different, except I learned to embrace an entirely new culture. The day before I went to the airport, I was extremely nervous about the trip ahead of me. I was going blind into a group of 22 people, including myself, all from various places and backgrounds.

When my dad dropped me off at the JFK airport, my anxiety was even further increased. “This is it” I thought, “I have to spend the next twenty-one days with these strangers.” Although I was at first uncomfortable in my current situation, I soon realized that I and all the other people in my group were connected by one thing – Judaism. With this in mind, I quickly made some friends and took the grueling 11-hour flight all the way from JFK to Tel-Aviv.

The first few days in Israel were definitely tough. It was my first time outside of North America, and I had to adjust to new food, people, language, and not to mention the horrible jetlag you get. As more time went by, however, the adjustment from the United States to Israel became easier and easier. After getting more comfortable with the people around me, I realized the reason I was in Israel – to embrace my Judaism and learn more about my culture and background.

The BBYO Israel Journey I went on did the job. We traveled to all sorts of places: The Golan Heights, Eilat, Haifa, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and more. All along the way were experiences that gave me a larger perspective on Judaism as a whole. For example, in Tzfat, our group met a man named Abraham, a follower of a spiritual type of Judaism. He explained how Judaism defines who we are as people. Listening to Abraham especially gave me a new perspective, such as his ideology that our ancestors have been trying to reach Israel for hundreds of years, and we finally are there, honoring them.

Another experience our group had where I felt most connected to my Judaism was at the Kotel. The Kotel, or the Western Wall, is a sacred place in the heart of the Old City where all the people pray. Seeing the people of Israel together praying gave me a sense of unity, and further helped me understand what it means to be Jewish.

In total, the Israel trip I went on was one of the best experiences I ever went on – I got to experience a new culture, meet new people, and strengthen my Jewish identity. As I said before, I had gone to camp for my entire life. I was only in Israel for three short weeks. Yet, in that short period of time, I made what I hope will be lifelong friends from different parts of the country. We shared incredible experiences from sleeping in a kibbutz to riding camels to swimming in the Dead Sea – memories I will never forget.  Thank you to Memphis Jewish Federation’s Lemsky Endowment Fund for helping to make my BBYO Israel trip possible.

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